Human remains are those of British journalist Dom Phillips, say Brazilian police

17 June 2022, 23:24

Brazil Amazon
Brazil Amazon. Picture: PA

The remains of two people were found on Wednesday near the city of Atalaia do Norte.

Human remains found deep in the Amazon have been identified as belonging to British journalist Dom Phillips, who went missing almost two weeks ago with a Brazilian indigenous expert, Brazilian police have said.

Additional remains found at the site near the city of Atalaia do Norte have not yet been identified but are expected to belong to indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, 41.

The men were last seen on June 5 on their boat on the Itaquai river, near the entrance of the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory, which borders Peru and Colombia.

“The confirmation (of Phillips’ remains) was made based on dental examinations and anthropological forensics,” federal police said in a statement.

Brazil Amazon
A police officer escorts a suspect towards a river in the area where Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips disappeared (Edmar Barros/AP)

“Work is ongoing for a complete identification of the remains so we can determine the cause of death, and also the dynamics of the crime and the hiding of the bodies.”

The remains were found on Wednesday after fisherman Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, 41, nicknamed Pelado, confessed he killed Mr Phillips, 57, and Mr Pereira, 41, and led police to the site were the remains were found.

He told officers he used a firearm to commit the crime.

Police also arrested Pelado’s brother, fisherman Oseney da Costa de Oliveira, 41.

The area where Mr Phillips and Mr Pereira went missing has seen violent conflicts between fishermen, poachers, and government agents.

Federal police said others may have participated in the crime but that organised criminal groups did not appear to be involved in the murders.

Brazil Amazon
Police officers with recovered human remains (Eraldo Peres/AP)

UNIVAJA, the local indigenous association for whom Pereira was working, criticised that conclusion.

It said in a statement the investigation had not considered the existence of a criminal organisation financing illegal fishing and poaching in the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory.

“That was why Bruno Pereira became one of the main targets of this criminal group, as well as other UNIVAJA members who received death threats,” the statement said..

President Jair Bolsonaro, a frequent critic of journalists and indigenous experts, has drawn criticism that the government did not get involved fast enough.

Earlier, he criticised Mr Phillips in an interview, saying without evidence that local people in the area where he went missing did not like him and that he should have been more careful in the region.

His main adversary in October’s election, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, said in a statement that the killings “are directly related to the dismantling of public policies of protection to indigenous peoples”.

”It is also related to the current administration’s stimulus to violence,” said Mr da Silva, who leads in opinion polls.

Brazil Amazon
Police tape at the area where Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips disappeared (Edmar Barros/AP)

The efforts to find the men were started by indigenous peoples in the region.

Indigenous people who were with Mr Pereira and Mr Phillips have said that Pelado brandished a rifle at them on the day before they disappeared.

Official search teams concentrated their efforts around a spot in the Itaquai river where a tarpaulin from the boat used by the missing men was found.

Authorities began scouring the area and discovered a backpack, laptop and other personal belongings submerged underwater on Sunday.

Authorities have said a main line of the police investigation into the disappearances has pointed to an international network that pays poor fishermen to fish illegally in the Javari Valley reserve, which is Brazil’s second-largest indigenous territory.

Mr Pereira, who previously led the local bureau of the federal indigenous agency, known as FUNAI, took part in several operations against illegal fishing.

In such operations, as a rule the fishing gear is seized or destroyed, while the fishermen are fined and briefly detained. Only the indigenous can legally fish in their territories.

While some police, the mayor and others in the region link the men’s disappearances to the “fish mafia”, federal police have not ruled out other lines of investigation, such as drug trafficking.

The case has put a global magnifying glass on violence in the Amazon.

Earlier on Friday, US state department spokesman Ned Price said Mr Phillips and Mr Pereira were “murdered for supporting conservation of the rainforest and native peoples there”.

“We call for accountability and justice, we must collectively strengthen efforts to protect environmental defenders and journalists,” He said.

Protests calling for justice for Mr Phillips and Mr Pereira are scheduled to take place in several Brazilian cities over the weekend.

By Press Association

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